Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown
When I got hold of him around the summer of 1993, Richard Lane was living in Detroit, where he’d once worked for the Lions and, eventually, with city youth programs.
“Whew,” said Lane, who died in 2002, 28 years after he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“Red-lands! You’re talking about a long time ago. All I can remember about Redlands was that I needed a ride to get out there. I didn’t know how to get there.”
Dick “Night Train” Lane knew what to do when he arrived. Redlands was the spot he had to prove his value to Rams’ coaches. He wasn’t yet known by his nickname, “Night Train.”
My job was to track as many “Redlands” Rams as I could. For a 12-year period, the Los Angeles Rams trained at the University of Redlands. This was historical. Imagine such an event taking place today.
Years later, Lane remembered the tiny little city.
“I got out of the service,” said Lane, who was 6-feet-2, 210 pounds. “My first connection, my first real connection with the Rams was in Redlands. I had to make the team there.”
Not drafted. Not scouted. Just signed. In Redlands.
Lane attracted the attention of Rams’ coaches. He played receiver. Split end? Not with the Tom Fears and “Crazy Legs” Hirsch tandem still operating as the NFL’s top pass-catching duo in what was considered one of the most potent attacks in league history.
“You know,” Lane said, “I hate to say this, but I think I could’ve been a little better (receiver) than what they had there” – referring to Fears and Hirsch.
“I covered them in practice. That’s how they noticed me on defense. That’s their thinking then: If I could cover Tom and ElRoy, then I deserved a place on the team.”
In one of Joe Stydahar’s final moves as Rams’ coach, one perhaps aided by defensive coach Hampton Pool, Lane was switched to defensive back. It was in that season that Lane picked off a record 14 passes over what was then a 12-game NFL schedule.
“Joe quit a game into the season,” said Lane. “I didn’t really get to know him that well. Both guys … I give credit to for my making the team.”
Which enemy QBs did he fleece?
“I intercepted Johnny Unitas,” said Lane. “Otto Graham was another guy. Uh, Bobby Layne … (Y.A.) Tittle … got a long (return) against (Babe) Parilli when he was with the Packers … (Charlie) Conerly. A lot guys.”
By 1954, Lane, who came up with 68 career interceptions, was traded by the Rams to the Chicago Cardinals. “I don’t know why I was traded. It’s hard to have the kind of season like I had that first year. I’m pretty sure they felt I slacked off somewhat.”
While Lane’s career was just beginning, another was concluding.
Coming off a National Football League championship one season earlier (1951), the Rams seemed to be the hot team. It would be the final season for quarterback Bob Waterfield. Norm Van Brocklin, another Hall of Fame QB, had been drafted out of Oregon.
Lane, the incoming wide receiver, had little chance of making this team. By 1952, Hirsch and Fears were the best tandem of split ends in the NFL.
“Don’t ask me to pick between them,” said Lane, referring to the QB tandem. “Bob retired after my rookie season, though. Both men were great. Both were great quarterbacks. I couldn’t pick between them.”
It was all taking place right in Redlands; the scheming of Lane, who kept his split end jersey No. 81 when he went to cornerback. History was being set on the old field at the University of Redlands.
“I was only with the Rams for a couple years,” he said. “I moved on.”
These were just a portion of the stories engaged at the Rams’ pre-season training camp.
“Night Train,” he said, referring to his nickname. “Ah, man. It was that song (by Buddy Morrow). No, not Buddy Morrow. It was Jimmy Lester. Tom (Fears) gave it to me. Started calling me that.
“No one called me Dick or Richard,” he said. “I had the Necktie nickname, too. I got guys by their necktie. They outlawed that kind of tackle, the clothesline.”
Night Train Lane, however, stuck – all the way to the Hall of Fame.
Night Train was the hot song.
There were plenty of hot nights in the Redlands dorms, Lane recalled.
“I swear, if they’d invented air conditioning back then,” he said, “they wouldn’t have given it to us. They wanted us to sweat.
“Ha-haaaaa,” he said. “That’s what I remember about Redlands. Sweating a lot.”